Rail Page Index:
Railfan Reports and experiences
Amtrak Station list
GPS Coordinates for Amtrak Stations (separate page)
Train Dispatching Game
Railfan points of interest
Rail Related Thoughts
Freight and Passenger thoughts
High Speed Rail in the Northeast Corridor
Rails to Trails?
Railroad related links (This is the same list as is accessable through my weblinks page.)
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The train provides unique opportunities to meet new people, make new friends, get to places you wouldn't otherwise get to, and view the land from a unique perspective. I have experienced all of these things on the train; indeed, many of my trips provide all of them. Below is a summary of the train systems I've used and how much of them I've traveled on.
I have ridden Amtrak to many different destinations spanning the United States. I've covered approximately 80% of Amtrak's routes. NOTE: Due to Amtrak's fluctuating route map, it is hard to estimate a percentage. There are many routes that Amtrak once operated that I never travelled on and therefore likely never will. There are a few Amtrak routes that have been discontinued or relocated since I travelled on them. One is the old Broadway Limited route through Fort Wayne, IN. I travelled this route only between Fort Wayne and Chicago. The other route that shifted was the route from Galesburg, IL to Chicago, on which I travelled the old Santa Fe route via Joliet. There have also been a few other minor changes, such as the elimination of a backup move departing Pittsburgh westbound. I have been on the old backup route several times (I believe there were two possible backup moves, as I seem to recall using both of them on different occasions.) I also detoured on Amtrak 48, the Lake Shore Limited, via the Southern Tier route from Buffalo to Binghamton, then on the D & H up to Schenectady. In total, I've ridden just OVER 100,000 miles on Amtrak.
I've also ridden VIA Rail Canada 5%, on the corridor between Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal.
Subway and transit system riding
I have ridden subways and other local rail based transit systems, sometimes just for the ride, in many cities, including New York subways 90%
Newark, NJ light rail 85%
NJT River Line light rail 95%
Hudson/Bergen NJT Light Rail 60%
New York/New Jersey PATH (before 1990)
Philadelphia SEPTA Subway (2002)
Philadelphia-NJ PATCO (2009)
Baltimore Metro Subway (2006), and light rail 95%
Washington DC Metro (2003)
Boston Subway 45%
Montreal Metro (1990 & 2009)
Toronto TTC subway 60%, and Streetcars 5%?
Cleveland RTA (2002)
Atlanta MARTA (2003)
Jacksonville Skyway (2003)
Miami Metrorail (2005) and Metromover (people mover system) (2007)
New Orleans Streetcars 85% of operating lines as of 1/31/08
Chicago CTA including the new Pink line (2007)
Trinity Railway Express (2009)
Dallas light rail (DART) (2/2009)
Dallas M-Line StreetCar (1/2009)
Seattle Sound Transit Light Rail (8/2009)
Seattle Monorail (2009)
Portland, Oregon (MAX and Trolley) 40%
Sacramento, CA Light Rail 5%
San Francisco Muni 20%, and Cable Cars (1984)
San Jose, CA Light Rail 5%
Los Angeles Metro Rail (subway and light rail) 60%
San Diego 50%
Guadalajara, Mexico (2007)
Berlin (Germany) 10%.
I have also ridden on segments of the following regional commuter lines. Some portions of some of these systems are on Amtrak, however I have ridden at least some portion of each system listed using the rail service mentioned. For example, though I have covered the entire Virginia Railway Express system on Amtrak, I have not actually ridden a VRE train, and thus VRE is not listed. And though I have only ridden a Chicago Metra train on a few routes, I have covered a greater percentage of that system on Amtrak, and thus a greater percentage is listed.
New Jersey Transit 85%
Long Island Rail Road 30%
SEPTA regional rail 55%
MARC (Maryland sponsored commuter rail in the Washington DC/Baltimore Area) 80%
Boston T 20%
Miami area Tri-Rail (2007)
Metra (Chicago) 40%
Burlington, VT's Champlain Flyer (2002) (since discontinued)
STM (formerly STCUM) Montreal 60%
Music City Star Nashville-Lebanon (2009)
I've also ridden a number of tourist lines including
Blue Ridge Scenic Railway from Blue Ridge, GA, to Copper Hill, TN (2010)
Stone Mountain (2009)
Pikes Peak Cog Railway (2006)
Lookout Mountain Incline Railway (Chattanooga) (1997)
Durango and Silverton (1984)
Steamtown (when in Vermont, probably before 1984)
Batten Kill, NY (1998)
Upper Hudson River Railroad (2001)
something near Flemington, NJ (1980's?)
Strasburg Railroad (1977 and 2003)
I have also ridden a number of airport people mover systems. While it could be argued that some of these systems aren't true rail systems, I include them if they operate on fixed guideways that control steering (busways don't count) and have well defined station stops. They include:
Newark Liberty International Airport Airlink people mover system 90%
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Automated People Mover (APM) (within the secure area) 80%
Dallas Fort Worth Skylink (2008)
Chicago O'hare Airport Transit System (ATS) (2006)
The year indicates that I rode the entire system (that I am aware of) as of that year. If 2 or more years are listed, it means I either rode the entire system again, or rode just the new segments added since the previous year listed. % indicates approximate percentage of the system that I have covered (rough estimate). My goal is to cover as much of these systems as possible, and I keep system maps on which I have marked the routes I've travelled.
I have a book that claims to include all the urban rail based transit systems in the world, at least those that have maps. However, I did not find any mention in the book of the following rail based systems I hope to ride someday:
Trolleys in Kenosha, WI
Trolleys in Memphis, TN
Trolleys in Little Rock, AR
Trolley in Savannah, GA
I have a current subscription to and a collection of virtually every issue of Trains magazine that extends back as far as WW II.
Feel free to e-mail me with questions for additional information based on these experiences.
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Amtrak Stations and addresses
I also have a file containing the GPS coordinates of every (or at least most) Amtrak stations. You can access it here: GPS Coordinates for Amtrak Stations
On the web:
This file is also hosted at : TrainWeb.org.
In the spring of 1995, I typed up a list of Amtrak stations with their street addresses which were included with Amtrak schedules on an all volunteer maintaned web site at http://www.libertynet.org/dvarp/Amtrak/. This link is no longer valid, and the organization DVARP now has their own web site domain at www.dvarp.org.
This was before Amtrak hosted schedules on their web page. You can access this list at http://www.cwrr.com/Amtrak/stations.html.
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Roads that parallel railroad tracks
Using my map drawing program, I am beginning to collect a list of places where roads parallel the railroad for significant distances. These routes make interesting side routes for the moderate to serious railfan. If you would like to contribute to this, please contact me at Bill222E@ensingers.com.
New York State:
If you like to bike, skate, jog, or walk, there are several places in New York State where a path for such activities parallels a railroad. One of them is the bike path along the Mohawk river and Erie barge canal from Albany to Buffalo, but as I haven't explored this, I'm not sure what sections go alongside the tracks.
Another trail runs along the side of the D & H tracks between Outlet Road (Just south of Ballston Spa at the north end to the hamlet of Ballston Lake route 146A on the south end. There is a parking area less than a quarter mile from the northern end of this trail. The path is part of the old Schenectady-Ballston Spa and Saratoga interurban line.
New York City:
The city subway is controlled at least partly by control rooms with train boards in the subway stations themselves. I have found two such locations:
Chambers St. station on the south end of the southbound platform for the 1, 2, and 3 trains. The board in this room faces away from the windows, but if you stand on the local side of this booth and look in the side window, you can catch a glimpse of the board.
At the West 4th St/Washington Square station, the south end of the platform for southbound B, D, F, and Q trains contains a much more visible circuit board. This station serves local and express trains for two lines, and all 8 tracks are represented on the board. The lines on top are for the tracks upstairs, and the lines on the bottom are for the tracks for the B, D, F, and Q trains. In each group of 4 lines, the top two represent northbound trains, and the other two represent southbound trains.
Up around 33rd street, there is (or at least once was) a place where a grate covers a hole in the sidewalk through which you can actually see what I believe are the PATH trains to New Jersey. If anyone knows the actual location of this, please let me know.
Take a ride on the #7 train out to the end of the line in Queens, then get in the first car for the ride back. You get a good view of the NYC skyline from the east side.
In New Jersey:
I don't think it's there anymore, but it was probably back in the mid 1980's that there was an Amtrak car in what appeared to be somewhat of a junk yard on the northeast corner of the intersection of the Garden State parkway and Rt 78. It looked like a Heritage fleet car, but being that I would never go past it much slower than 55 mph on the highways, I never got a good look at it. If anyone knows what happened to it, I'd be interested to know.
If you like airplanes as well as trains, take a ride on the DC Metro to National Airport. The Metro station platform provides a pretty good view of the runway. The terminal blocks part of the runway, and things may have changed since I was there, but it was still perhaps the best spot to watch planes take off and land while remaining in the Metro system.
If you would like to contribute to this list, please send your ideas to me at Bill222E@ensingers.com. When you write, please let me know how you found my page and the address for your web page if you have one.
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In arguing in favor of train speed restrictions during flash flood warnings, I got the following response from someone I shared my thoughts with:
In a message dated 97-10-12 23:10:09 EDT, you write:
<< I just read in Trains magazine that BNSF imposed a 20mph speed restriction in washout prone areas when there are flash flood warnings, and it included a report that a 900 foot washout was found when a train had to obey the order. I'll try to remember to show you the report next time I see you. >>
Don't start. I don't need a headache with this liberal whimpy stuff. lol
END OF RESPONSE. MY RESPONSE FOLLOWS.
From what I understand, BNSF imposed the restrictions themselves, without the influence of any government legislation. Liberals in government get all hyped up about accidents, then want to create laws that impose restrictions, yet they don't know the business, and thus often don't know what they're doing when they write the laws. To make matters worse, when industry thumb their noses at government saying, we know what we're doing, there's no way to effectively prevent these things from happening, that acts as a catalyst to get the liberals even more upset, thus working harder to create laws that are often highly overburdening and ineffective. However, when industry takes the initiative to come up with a solution, as BNSF did in this case, and it prevents the very thing it's designed to prevent, then they have every right to say to government, look, we've come up with a sensible solution, it's working, and there's no reason to go through the law making process.
Also, what BNSF did in this case isn't liberal or conservative, it's just good common business sense. They took a simple concept that doesn't interfere significantly with their business and can prevent far greater disruption, and put it into action.
The point has been made that railroad structures were originally built to last 100 years or more. That may be the case, and indeed, many structures have lasted that long and are still in good shape. But some structures whether built to these specifications or not, haven't met this goal and are beginning to crumble.
Ideas for this particular case: It would take a little effort on the part of each major railroad to set up a system in which they would identify all places on their railroad where a flash flood could damage a railroad right of way, and then only places where a train moving at maximum speed with minimum visibility would be unable to stop between where the washout site first comes into view and the washout. If this doesn't eliminate many sites, it might not be worthwile trying to figure this out for each site. But the point is that branch lines where maximum speeds might only be 20 or 25 mph might not have to be inspected. Put this information into a computer that compares those locations automatically with flash flood warnings issued by the National Weather Service. When an overlap occurs, then and only then does the computer bother a human by sending a message to the dispatcher, who would then notify the next train through the area that there is potential for a flash flood, and to take it slow, and then only through the area of the potential washout, not through the entire flash flood warning zone. The railroad industry is very familiar with slow orders, so this can be very easily looked on as a temporary slow order.
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If Amtrak hadn't happened, I am certain that some railroads would have retained their passenger trains. Indeed, several railroads opted to stay out of Amtrak, and continued running trains well past the required date. Among them are The Southern Cresent, Rio Grande's train from Denver to Salt Lake City. I remember reading in old issues of Trains that I think it was probably Southern Pacific or Santa Fe would have kept their trains running if they knew what Amtrak was going to do with them. However, Auto Train ran through most of the 70's and did quite well until one train derailed. I think a number of regional corridors would still have develped or be retained, almost certainly including The Northeast Corridor, which if nothing else would have been saved by Washington DC politicians, if for no other reason than one of its main terminals is just a few blocks from the Capitol.
Amtrak and Market Share
Amtrak has this going for it: Though its share of the travel market is tiny, a large percentage of Americans have ridden the train at least once in their lifetimes, and many who haven't would probably consider trying the train at least once, if for nothing else than the experience. This is significant because it shows that the travel market pie is sliced in more than one way. For Amtrak, it isn't a matter of carrying just a small number of people who travel, but offering an alternative that many people would choose given the right conditions, whereas for most trips they fly or drive. Amtrak's "slice" of the travel market, therefore, doesn't just reflect a small group of people who take the train for most trips but a large group of people who choose the train for a very small number of trips. This means a couple things: a large number of people have heard of Amtrak and have even ridden at least once, and if those customers can be convinced to try Amtrak again (more likely the better experience they had) even if it is just their second trip, ridership would increase significantly. If every American rode Amtrak only once every 10 years, Amtrak's ridership would increase significantly. No doubt many won't ride, ever, either because of poor experience or stories from friends, or economic reasons, or they just don't travel much, or don't live near an Amtrak station, but this does give a picture for the pool of customers and potential customers Amtrak has to work with.
Amtrak and Politics I believe Amtrak has done reasonably well over the years especially considering the political football that it's been. Amtrak has increased passenger traffic and at times has had a very respectable rate of return per dollar spent when compared to other passenger railroads. But Amtrak can't break free of government dependency until it becomes self sufficient, and as long as it is dependent on government, it is hobbled by the whims of politicians demanding what services it should or shouldn't provide. It seems like a catch-22 type situation. I think one of the fundamental problems with Amtrak is its conflicting role as a public service and a mandate to be profitable. If it is really going to be profitable, it must have the freedom to add and cut trains and other services as it sees fit, without the government dictating what must and must not run. If it is to be a public service, it must receive sufficient funds to run the services the politicans deem necessary. In recent years, the mandate to be profitable has been removed, however, government funding levels and mandates for service often still conflict.
There are a number of other isues in which political bickering is ridiculous. These include the following:
If the Federal Government is to subsidize a national passenger rail network, I think the following stipulations are reasonable:
Each train operated by the system must make at least one stop in each of two or more states or be supported entirely by the state in which the train operates.
Any trains (apart from state sponsored trains) must connect to the national network through at least one point on the route, with preference given to trains that connect at one or both ends of its route.
If a proposal is made that a train passing through a state that provides no support for that train keep its doors closed while in that state, the proposal should be rejected, as this limits ticket revenue. At the very least, passengers should be allowed to get on or off the train in that state as long as they are traveling to or from outside the state, but even this limits revenue and therefore isn't a good idea.
Corridors should be accounted for separately from the national network.
If it is the federal government's resposnibility to provide for interstate transportation, then interstate corridors should be part of that, and their cost not forced to be a state burden, however, multiple states should not be prohibited from forming consortioms to support regional corridors.
Long distance trains using corridors for part of their route should be accounted for appropriately accoding to their need. For example, long distance trains don't need track designed for high speed corridor service if they don't operate at the maximum speed on that corridor, and therefore should not be charged with the increased maintenance cost of the higher speed track, but only an appropriate fraction of maintaining track to the lower speed standard.
Not the Federal Government's Responsibility
However, it is not the responsibility of our government to run a national passenger rail network, or even to sponsor one. The only thing I can find in the constitution speaking to the issue of transportation is in Article I Section. 8.: The Congress shall have Power to... [among other things] establish Post Offices and post Roads." I suppose if Amtrak were commissioned to carry mail, it would fall under this category. At one time, Amtrak did carry mail. I'm not sure if it still does. Rail, of course, did not exist in 1776 in a form in any real sense the same way as it does today, and so there is an open question as to what extent this constitutional mandate applies to other modes of transportation beyond post roads.
The role of Federal Government in providing transportation
To the extent that all modes of transportation have an impact on more than one person's private property, there is of necessity a requirement for negotiation between multiple property owners. This is true for a path from someone's house to his next door's neighbor's house, on up to the coast to coast interstate highway crossing many farmer's fields and cutting through big cities. Airports are limited to a defined piece of land, but planes still make considerable noise heard well beyond airport land, and even occasionally crash on other people's houses. Boats perhaps avoid interference more than any other form, but navigable waters don't go everywhere and many routes where they do go are either too slow or not direct enough to be remotely practical. Thus government in some form must be involved in making transportation decisions, and perhaps even paying some of the cost of building them, especially when it comes to compensating land owners.
When government should provide passenger rail transportation
Most long distance rail lines are already established, so the question is limited to establishing local and regional new rapid transit lines in their various forms, light rail, commuter, subway, etc. New and existing long distance and corridor routes leave only the question of if and how much subsidy the government should pay to operate them. This question should best be answered by how much traffic these routes take off parallel highways, the increased economic activity they generate, and congestion elimiation at chokepoints, often the big city or cities as which the lines terminate or otherwise serve. Consider how far you would have to walk from a parking garage to your destination vs where a rapid transit vehicle could drop you off to your destination. If for example, adding an additional lane to an interstate is more expensive than building and maintaining the transit line, then the transit line would be the way go go.
Road vs Rail
Roads are perhaps the most versatile form of transportation. A road can go virtually anywhere, up steep grades and around sharp curves with minimal infrastructure. Vehicles built for roads can be designed for virtually any purpose. And once you have your cargo, whether freight or passenger, in a road enabled vehicle, switching to any other mode of transportation creates an inefficiency. So if your trip starts on a dirt road in the mountains, it might as well continue to the paved 1 lane road to the 2 lane road, to the interstate to your final destination. Thus roads have the advantage over all other modes of transportation. At some point, however, the interstate highway becomes so crowded that traffic begins to slow, this regardless of how many lanes each way it has. Road still has an advantage because each vehicle can take its cargo directly to its destination, even though statistics may say that a train would easily carry the traffic of the overloaded road. Not until things like distance, overall trip time, increased productivity on the train rather than staring at the road, etc., come into play will people begin to choose the train. As this concerns the government, these factors must be considered before establishing a government sponsored passenger rail line.
There is a point at which rail does begin to make sense, and at this point, government involvement in paying for construction and operation should be acceptable with the understanding that it is cheaper than building a new highway or adding lanes to an existing one.
Equal playing field is ideal
I believe if all modes of transportation were to compete on a level playing field, ie., NO SUBSIDY for any mode, or at least, equal subsidy based on usage, there would be a place for profitable regularly scheduled common carrier passenger trains in certain markets. Indeed, there have been attempts at this from time to time, usually focused on particular markets, like ski trains, a Walt Disney World train, and the Auto Train pre-Amtrak. I suspect there would be more excursions and dinner trains as well. It might even be possible to run a nationwide network similar to what we know as Amtrak. But the focus of these services must be on passenger demand, and this holds true for Amtrak even as it exists today.
Ideas for a better national passenger train network
For long distance trains to be successful, they must meet the needs of the long distance traveler. When someone travels long distance, they have a choice of flying, driving, takeing a bus, or takeing a train. The train offers the following advantages: no mindless hours behind a steering wheel staring at white dashes on the road, more space than an airline seat, room to spread out in a lounge car, sleeper car options, dining car novelties, no overnight hotel stays, travel times comparable to driving and fares similar or less than airline flights. Busses could offer most of these services, but it would be difficult for a bus to offer all of them and have room for enough passengers to make it worth while.
Where the train stops in small to medium size towns, the service provided can become quite valuable to that community, offering transportation to its citizens and nearby towns to distant large cities or anywhere else Amtrak travels, as well as bringing tourists from distant cities to their community. This could generate considerable revenue for local businesses as well as increased train usage.
Passenger trains must also stop in enough cities along the way to generate enough passengers to fill the train and make the trip worth while. To do this, it not only helps to have stops every hour or so, but also to have connections with other long and short distance train service and other public transportation options at as many places along the way as possible. To understand the potential that such connections offers, consider that a train that serves just 2 cities has 2 city pairs that passengers can choose to travel between (that is, each trip can begin in either city and end in the other city, counting return trips as a separate trip). A train serving 3 stations has 6 city pairs. A train serving 5 cities has 20 city pairs. That is, when a 5 city train departs, let's say it has one passenger for each of the 4 cities down the line, and picks up 1 passenger at each of the next stop for each of the cities down the line from that stop. This train will have 4 people board at the first station for a total of 4 passengers, 1 person off and 3 on at the next station for a total of 6 on-board passengers, 2 off and 2 on at the 3rd stop maintaining 6 passengers, 3 off and 1 on at the 4th stop for a total of 4 passengers, and 4 off at the final stop. Total usage of the train comes to 10 passengers. If this train were to eliminate the in-between stops, it would only have the end-to-end passengers, which is only one person! Adding intermediate stations has an exponential effect on the number of potential city pairs a passenger can choose to travel between, which increases the utility of the train, and, for short distance travelers, increases ticket revenue since short distance fares tend to be higher percentage-wise than long distance fares. The exponential effect is also important to realize since linking up with another train, or even a bus or plane that serves additional stations greatly increases the city pairs a passenger can travel to and thus increases the utilization of both trains. Connecting busses and trains can also use the same terminal facilities, increasing the output of the terminal with little or no increase in expense.
Other things that can and should be done include renting station space to businesses, preventative maintenance, customer service, marketing the benefits of traveling by train honestly (take a more leisurely pace, or market it like a "land cruise"), build the excursion and tourist package business, improve ontime performance, partner with the freight railroads so that both the host railroad and Amtrak gets good publicity on the train (possibly including highlighting interesting information about the host railroad, like the businesses it serves and the quantity of freight moved, and its history), partner with regions the train travels through to highlight the tourist attractions of that region and making it easy for the tourist to get to those attractions by train and bus or van connections perhaps including discounts to some attractions, provide more and better on-board entertainment, fun things for kids, trivia or other types of games for all ages, make announcements when passing historic or significant places, and have onboard local history discussions as well as offer regional cuizine in the dining car. Some of these things Amtrak already does, but by no means as much as they could or probably should.
Other standard business operating procedures should also apply. Maximize the number of coaches and other cars that a single locomotive can pull and sell them out as often as possible. Discontinue or shorten trains that routinely run less than half full, or look for reasons why passengers aren't using those trains. Find solutions to reccuring operational problems. Allow employees to learn from their mistakes, but fire those who don't. Properly apply expenses to each revenue center (train). Generate revenue from other assets such as passenger stations, or sell the station and rent an office there.
Corridors and commuter trains operate most efficiently when their end points are both major passenger destinations. Most commuter lines serving big cities have terminals in the outer suburbs. This results in long trains leaving their outlying terminal near empty and filling up gradually as the train approaches the city. Moreover, rush hour trains tend to run full of traffic in one direction and near empty in the other direction. Trains that terminate at both ends at major destinations are more likely to be full at both ends as well as in the middle of their run... as people get off the train coming from one destination, others are getting on the train on their way to the destination at the other end of the line. A good example of such a system is the Trinity Railway Express between Dallas and Fort Worth, TX. This equals more revenue per train mile.
High Speed Rail
Limited stop high speed trains need to draw on densely populated areas to generate enough traffic to be practical. The farther your starting or ending point is from a high speed rail station, or the more difficult it is to get to the station, the less competitive the train will be. Many trips are downtown to downtown, the most likely to use a train, but many are from downtown to suburb, or suburb to suburb. These trips will likely start by car and thus be entirely car, or if long enough, car, plane, car. But if you have to drive through or around a city at rush hour, the train might be a viable alternative. Trains aren't impeded by heavy traffic nearly as much as cars. Thus, high speed trains, and passenger rail in general could benefit by having stops not just downtown, but also at the outskirts of a city, conveniently located next to a major highway with easy access and parking. Once a passenger is on a train, they are likely to stay on the train through multiple connections to as close to their final destination as possible.
Government and building high speed rail
Before a government should build a high speed rail line, it should consider how much bang for their buck they could get from improving the existing rail service in the same corridor. A high speed line is sleek and "sexy," but benefits are limited only to trains that use the new line, and only to relatively small areas around the stations it serves, especially if other transportation service in the same corridor continue to operate. Meanwhile, improving the existing infrastructure benefits all trains operating on that right of way. If these improvements are done incrementally, the cost is spread out over a period of time, while at the same time, increasing numbers of passengers will be attracted to the service. Both of these things tend to be more politically palatable with the general public, as they see costs not spiking yet both usage and the service provided improve.
Specific ideas for incrementally improved service
In the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak has proposed building a new high speed line from Boston to Washington. This is expected to cost billions. It will benefit mostly business travelers traveling between the major cities, and that's about it. Meanwhile, there is plenty of room for improving the existing service, both in reducing transit time, as well as increasing convenience. Considerable time could be saved by building a straighter and much faster line through Baltimore, for example, that all trains could use, avoding the painfully slow Baltimore tunnels. Expensive? Yes, but so is building a new high speed line through the area that only the high speed trains can use. Why not provide the benefit for the locals and regionals as well? The same can be said for the Philadelphia area. How about connecting Penn station with tracks leading out of Grand central? This would cut off the long swing through Queens. Expensive? Yes, but so is building a high speed line through the area that only the high speed trains could use. Too much traffic already coming out of grand central? Build a new tunnel under the existing tracks and connect further up the line. Straighten out the curves at Elizabeth, Metro Park, and various places in Connecticut. Expensive? Yes. Requires some emminent domain? Yes, but both issues apply to the high speed line that benefits only the high speed trains. There are reasons, perhaps very good reasons why some of these ideas won't work, but certainly many of them could, and there are many more ideas than just these. It is important to recognize that incremental improvements to existing systems tend to be more successful than totally new systems built from scratch.
Government regulations certainly dealt the freight railroads a big blow in the 1950's-1970's, and this probably led to the fact that the railroads didn't attract the best top management people. A recent article in Trains outlined about 10 absolutely boneheaded decisions made by rail management people during the 60's and 70's. A couple that come to mind: New York Central and Pennsylvania railroads continued installation of incompatible computer systems even after it became known that they would merge, and in another case, a large railroad demanded that a branch line forgo all maintenance for a year, and send the "savings" on to the parent railroad. One other item was that when a lower level executive made a suggestion that would have saved his railroad considerable money and improve customer service, upper level management said, "Don't touch that. That was set up by our grandfathers." These decisions had nothing to do with labor unions or government regulation. I believe the primary reason railroads survived at all is because they are so inherently efficient at moving large quantities of freight, AND because there was enough large volume freight (coal, grain, etc.) to move that shippers put up with the railroads because they knew that the alternative would have been impractical, to say the least.
To those who say everything the government gets its hands on it then screws up. Conrail is an example of where despite government, the experiment succeeded. Probably, things could have been done better, but the experiment was successful. Conrail returned to profitability, and was sold to the public.
Passenger trains and individual travel flexibility
This sounds a little confusing, but I'll say a few things. I can choose my method of transportation: I have a car. Amtrak makes a stop about 25 minutes away, or I could take a bus or plane. Over Thanksgiving, I drove home. I wanted to stop off on the way to do some things. Over Christmas, I took the train. This was more relaxing, and was worth while, since I met some interesting people along the way (this is common in train travel). Had I driven, I would not have had this opportunity. I don't take the bus or plane simply because I don't like the bus, and I simply prefer being on the ground, and there isn't an airport nearby. Now if the train were to go away, I would have one less choice of going home. I would also loose the flexibility of choosing the train for some trips if I wanted to be a bit more leasurely or if the car wasn't functioning. I would have to drive every time, or take the bus, but only if necessary.
The point in all this, is that riding the train is currently one of the choices an individual could make for a particular trip. Taking that away reduces the choice and thus the flexibility somewhat. An individual can't make an individual trip on the railroads without an expensive railroad car specifically certified to attach to one of Amtrak's or a freight railroad's trains, and this is only done by the very rich or by Railroad clubs. This would be true with or without Amtrak, and since freight railroads stand on their own, government involvement or non involvement wouldn't change the situation here. The same general thing is true for the airways, since planes are somewhat expensive, and few individuals have a long enough driveway to land their Cessna. If government is to afford the opportunity for individuals to have individual access to the railroads, a lot would have to change. And that would inevatibly end up costing a lot of money. The only practical way to move people on the rails is by passenger trains of the type Amtrak runs, subways, commuter trains, etc. Since these are big ticket items and need people with skills that most don't have, individual freedom to run on the railroads isn't practical.
Perhaps the best thing that's been proposed in response to having individual access to the railroads is that one or several companies own the tracks, and separate companies run trains on them, similarly to how trucks run on the highways. This system might work, but is drastically different to how things are run on the railroads today, so again, a lot would have to change.
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After reviewing Amtrak's proposal to build a new high speed rail right of way for true high speed trains in the NEC, my response is that the money could better be spent improving existing service in the NEC as well as adding service in other areas of the country. Looking at Google earth, there are a number of opportunities to straighten out curves between Boston and Washington, many of which would require eminent domain, but some would not. Certainly this would be less eminent domain than building an entirely new right of way, even if it is routed through mostly empty land? Perhaps grades would be too steep without the curves? I doubt in most cases it would, but even so, bulldozers and some dynamite could solve some if not all of that problem, and with less earthmoving as a new ROW. I believe it is merely a catenary problem south of New York that limits trains from going a full 150mph, perhaps faster on straight stretches. Certainly upgrading this catenary would be cheaper than building all the miles of new catenary required for a new ROW. The express trains could benefit by using under normal conditions dedicated straight track through complex junctions such as "Zoo" in Philadelphia. Let slower trains take diverging routes. And finally, making such improvements to the existing system would benefit ALL trains, commuter, regional, long distance, and high speed, not just a handfull of high speed trains. Is more capacity an issue? There's room for expansion with use of double decker trains and adding an additional track.
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I am not opposed to the idea of turning old rail rights of way into trails. I enjoy biking and hiking, and an old railroad right of way provides an ideal pathway for such activities. However, there has been concern raised over wether the rails to trails movement has been taking away needed railroad capacity. Any railroad right of way turned into a trail needs to be genuinely dead for any possible railroad use. Suggestions include:
1. Relocation of a right of way. Example: when the new corridor to the container ports in Los Angeles is built and the current approaches are no longer needed, these could be turned into trails.
2. Logging or other types of railroads long ago abandoned. These lines are ideal for hikers to get to mountains or other hiking and camping areas.
3. Abandoned rights of way that have no hope of returning to rail use, either because of development along the right of way or because they do not connect to anything, specifically a real or potential customer, or another railroad.
I do not support:
1. Government funds to purchase active (whether profitable or not), nor non-abandoned rail lines for use as trails.
2. Denying the return of a rail trail to rail use.
3. Making it impossible for a rail trail to return to rail use.
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I think it is important to consider how much revenue is generated when branch line loads are not on the branch in determining the viability of the branch. If a few miles of branch lines generates 50 cars per year that travel a long way on a main line (say 500 to 1000 miles), they'll generate more revenue than if they were going just a couple hundred miles after coming off a 30 or 40 mile branch. Thus the shorter branch that generates little traffic may be better worth keeping than a longer branch that has more traffic.
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I have some text files kept offline that contain information related to railroads on the following topics. If you want me to send you any of these files, please send e-mail to Bill222E@ensingers.com. When you write, please let me know how you found my web site and the address for your web page if you have one.
TRAINS Hotspots Safety Supporting passenger trainsTo the top of this page